On Saturday afternoon Wales will play their first match on their state-of-the-art hybrid pitch. The theater of Welsh rugby will unveil a brand new stage and the Welsh audience will be desperate to see it graced with new act: Wales winning against the southern hemisphere’s big three.
Wales have won just one of their last 25 Tests against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, and that single success came against the Wallabies back in 2008.
This autumn, Wales will host all three at the Millennium Stadium and if they want to consider themselves genuine contenders at next year’s World Cup, they will have to claim at least one southern hemisphere scalp this November.
This Welsh squad is brimming with talent and experience, so what is the difference between the big three and Warren Gatland’s men? Self belief.
The southern hemisphere sides always believe they are going to win, Wales do not. But ironically, the big three’s sense of self belief has been nurtured by victories, reinforced and reaffirmed by countless conquests, while those 24 Test losses have almost crushed Wales’ confidence.
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Of course when Wales face European opposition, they are a different beast. Under Gatland’s leadership, they have claimed three Six Nations titles in the last six years.
Yet when they come up against Australia, the Wallabies’ self belief always gives them an edge, as the last four encounters between the two teams illustrates. In 2012 the sides met four times, and in three of those meetings, the Aussies came from behind to snatch victory within the final six minutes.
But when it was Wales’ turn to chase the game, in their last fixture in 2013, they just did not have the confidence to cart themselves over the line. 14-man Australia were able to hold on to a four-point advantage for the final twelve minutes.
Teams can always learn from a defeat at the hands of a superior side, but being piped at the finish line by equal opposition always strikes a huge physiological blow.
Wales captain Sam Warburton spoke out earlier this week and claimed that there is “no physiological barrier” preventing them from overcoming the Aussies. A defeat on Saturday will doused any spark off self belief the Red Dragons' have. Not only because it will be their tenth straight defeat at the hands of the Wallabies, but also because they know this is a match they should win.
Wales need spark
Wales need that spark if they are going to ignite this autumn. And they desperately need to put an end to Australia’s spun-out winning record before the teams meet in Pool A at next year’s World Cup.
The All Blacks are almost infallible and although the Springboks were almost undone by Wales in Nelspruit, they are always strong and they are now a lot wiser to Welsh ways. But despite all of the Wallabies’ world-class talent, they are not a world-class outfit at the moment.
Their scrum is still a shambles, the Barbarians proved that their defense is still shaky and the half back pairing (Will Genia and Quade Cooper) that shredded the Welsh blitz defense last year in Cardiff, will spend most of Saturday afternoon on the bench.
This will be Wales' best opportunity at claiming a southern hemisphere scalp this autumn, but they have to seize it. Wales have enough caps and quality to challenge any team in the world, but this weekend they need to prove it, to the world and more importantly, to themselves, by felling the smallest of the big three.